The Waters of Dune Run Deep


Given that Frank Herbert’s Dune is considered the hallmark of science-fiction and perhaps the corollary to Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, it’s worth mentioning how little technical science the novel involves. Research informs me this absence was done on purpose as Herbert opted for “soft” science in order to focus on other narrative foundations—and while I heartily endorse his decisions, I cannot repress my surprise.

While much acquainted with Dune spinoffs (movie, video game, popular culture), I had never explore its worm infested pages until this week. I’m late to the party, I know. Part of this is due to a misapplied zealotry with past novels of a “you already should have read this” quality. Knowing I should read them has caused me to dive in without the necessary state of mind or dedication to appreciate their lofty auspices. Thankfully, in the instance of Dune, I readied my mind in advance so as not to read with surface comprehension and instead allow myself time to sift through the sandy details (i.e. flip vigorously to the various appendices and maps) and give a story of this magnitude the attention it so rightly deserves. Naturally, it did not disappoint: As Paul Atreides and his family relocate to the desert planet of Arrakis (also know as Dune), disaster soon befalls them. In the midst of their trials they are inundated with the whispers of a prophecy—a coming messiah who will bring paradise to the planet’s barren wasteland.

This summary, as most summaries do, is far too simplistic, even puerile to give credence to the extraordinary world and world-building of Dune. In fact, this cannot be overstated. Even as I’m probably guilty of giving authors more world-building credit than they ostensibly deserve—I’ve never written a sci-fi nor fantasy novel and the prospect of world-building in one is so over-daunting that its cyclical logic is why I don’t even attempt to write one in the first place—not a tree (or a lack of a tree) feels out of place here. The internet informs me that Herbert spent six years researching and building the ecology of his planet. And it shows.

The interweaving of industry, politics, religion, ecosystems (among others) frankly has no comparison to any Sci-fi or Fantasy I’ve read. For example, each chapter contains an epigram from various “sources” and “books” recounting the history of Paul Atreides and his rise to power and I kept thinking “boy, I really want to read these… non-existent books.” Characters are complex, contradictory, even messy. They have so much history pulling on them, that as a reader, I cannot help but believe they derive their motivations from authentic and authoritative sources. Most poignant is the Fremen’s dedication and religious rites associated with water. When you live in a desert, what can be more sacred than H2O? The fractured mysticism is a natural byproduct. It all makes sense.

My only 21st century gripes (not the technology!) are purely current literary conventions that I’m accustomed to and that I prefer. I’ve mentioned them in passing before, but 1) character thought in italics, and 2) the overuse of ellipses to relay dramatic overtures or long pauses are two such conventions which Herbert uses and of which I generally eschew. The third is not a gripe, but a pontification: I would confidently posit that the “narrator” of Dune is a limited omniscient narrator. This means, in the simplest terms, that the narrator can be in any character’s head at any given time, but while there, cannot know the thoughts of the other characters (although there might be places where this breaks down). So 3) my question? rumination? realization? is that I’m so rutted into single narrators (or rotating characters designated by white space or chapter breaks) that to have dozens of characters’ thoughts splattering over the pages without a transition took me a while to be comfortable with.

But all said, my minor reservations do nothing to undermine this literary tour de force. To honestly apprehend, to fully plumb the depths of this deep deep well that is Dune, to drink of its waters, I’ll likely have to read it two, yay maybe three more times. The only conflict is finding the time. A true classic.

Think you have a sci-fi equal of similar complexity? Leave a comment, I’d love to know. 4.5/5 stars.


A Year of Reading in Review

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Now that 2018 is upon us, it only seems appropriate to take account of 2017’s reading. Mine, anyway. But perhaps—dear anonymous internet reader—in a yet unknown and oblique way, it will be helpful to you. And what better way to disseminate that information than a list? Because after all, isn’t New Years’ Eve all about countdowns? Also, I’ve included the entire reading list at the bottom for your perusing pleasure. So behold, my Top Ten Reading Countdown of 2017:

10)  I read 61 books this year. This is higher than usual as the yearly goal hovers around fifty.

9)  I read 50 fiction books and 11 nonfiction books. While the ratio of fiction to nonfiction (5:1) seems lopsided, my affinities are usually closer to a 10:1 ratio.

8)  Of the 11 nonfiction books I read, six were biographies or memoirs.

7)  Of the 50 fiction books I read, four were short story collections.

6)  Twenty-three were Science Fiction and Fantasy.

5)  Two were historical fiction. This is an aberration as historical lit is often fighting for the quantitative top spot.

4)  Sixteen could be classified as “Literature.” Five were what I call ‘contemporary literature’ or popular fiction. Three were mystery/thriller.

3)  I started, but didn’t finish three novels. Those were The Thirteen Gun Salute by Patrick O’Brian, Postcards by Annie Proulx (I normally love her work), and Ancillary Justice by Anne Leckie (people have raved about this series, but it didn’t catch with me).

2)  The shortest book was 135 pages (The Red Badge of Courage), the longest was 782 pages (Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell).

1)  All things considered, I read a lot of mediocre books. I only felt strongly about a third of them (anything higher than 3 stars). Most, however, fell squarely on the 3-star which is to stay I enjoyed them, but you won’t catch me offering additional recommendations. So here’s to 2018, my ever growing list, and—fingers crossed—bundles of 4 and 5 star reads!


The List:

War of the Flowers by Tad Williams

The Pony by John Steinbeck

Nine Stories by JD Salinger

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Suzanna Clarke

Do Androids Dream of Electrical Sheep? by Philip K Dick

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

The Last Light of the Sun by Guy Gavriel Kay

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

Starship Troopers by Robert A Heinlein

The Writing Life by Annie Dillard

The Crossing by Cormac McCarthy

Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson

Trading in Danger by Elizabeth Moon

The Memory of Earth by Orson Scott Card

The Long Ride Home by Tawni Waters

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Thriving in Babylon by Larry Osborne

Kingdom of the Cults by Walter Martin

Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick

Home by Toni Morrison

World Without End by Ken Follett

Salinger by David Shields and Shane Salerno

Brothers at War by Michael Walsh

Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Stardust by Neil Gaiman

Midnight Sun by Jo Nesbo

The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman

Sign of the Four by Robert Conan Doyle

Methuselah’s Children by Robert A Heinlein

The Gift by Vladimir Nabokov

Brass Verdict by Michael Connelly

Just After Sunset by Stephen King

Jacob’s Room by Virginia Woolf

Shadows of the New Sun Anthology by Various Authors

The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller

The Fireman’s Wife by Richard Bausch

Igniting the Reaches by David Drake

The Water that Holds Me by AR Horst

The Feast of Love by Charles Baxter

Under the Skin by Michel Faber

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

Total Eclipse by John Brunner

Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Non-Stop by Brian Aldiss

Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison

Feynman by Jim Ottaviani and Leland Myrick

Gentlemen of the Road by Michael Chabon

From Eternity to Here by Frank Viola

Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson

Firefight by Brandon Sanderson

Old School by Tobias Wolff

The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane

Timescoop by John Brunner

The Adventures of Robin Hood by Roger Lancelyn Green

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

The King by Donald Barthelme

The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread by Don Robertson

The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers